Your Tunisian Carte de Sejour, or Residence Permit, is an important document that you need to obtain if you are in Tunisia for an uninterrupted stay of more than four months. The Carte de Sejour is your basic identification card, like a drivers license in the US. It takes the place of your passport. While in Tunisia, you should leave your passport in a safe place to avoid losing it. In its place, carry your Carte de Sejour and a photocopy of the first page of your passport.
To obtain a Carte de Sejour requires time and paperwork. Some people prefer to avoid this by leaving Tunisia every four months—for example, for a brief trip to Palermo or Marseille or Malta. You can do this. The four-month clock restarts upon your return. However, then you have to leave again before the four months is up.
A Carte de Sejour is convenient for some things and absolutely necessary for other things. For example, if you want to get a visa to go to Algeria, you will need to send your passport from Tunisia to the Algerian Consulate in Washington, D.C.. If you have a Tunisian Carte de Sejour, however, you can get the visa from the Algerian consulate in Tunis. The same is true for a visa for India, Libya and many other countries. Also, if you are a Fulbright teacher in Tunisia and receive part of your salary from the Tunisian university, you will need a Tunisian bank account in order to be paid, and to open a bank account you will need a Carte de Sejour. So if you are going to be in Tunisia for more than four months, it is a good idea to get a Carte de Sejour, even though it takes some time and work.
Apply for the Carte de Sejour within three months after your arrival. If you are a US citizen, you can legally come to Tunisia without a visa and stay for up to four months. However, if you stay in Tunisia for longer than four months without a Carte de Sejour you become an illegal alien. If you go to the airport to take a flight out of Tunisia, they will stop you at the passport control and deny you permission to leave until you have paid a fine for overstaying. This can be expensive and unpleasant. The Consulate at the US Embassy says that the official limit for staying without a Carte de Sejour is four months, but some Tunisian customs officials have been known to insist that the rule is three months. Don’t take a chance. Apply for a Carte de Sejour within three months after your arrival.
The Carte de Sejour is issued by the police station near your residence. If you live in Tunis it is the police station in your neighborhood. Some police stations have a lot of experience issuing Cartes de Sejour to foreigners and some do not. Make a preliminary trip to your neighborhood police station, meet the official who deals with Cartes de Sejour, and ask what documents you will need to present in order to apply for one. Make a list of these documents, get them together (which will take some time), bring them to the police station, and apply for your Carte de Sejour.
Some police stations have different requirements than others. Some police stations require more and some fewer supporting documents, and some officials are easier to work with than others. Be patient and polite. You will need to wait until people ahead of your have been served, so bring something to read. When you meet the official, shake hands and remember the person’s name. This is an important person for your stay in Tunisia. When you come back to the police station with all the documents on the list, do not be surprised if the official thinks of more documents that are needed. You may have to return for multiple visits.
Typically to apply for a Carte de Sejour requires the following:
- Copies of pages from your passport. Usually it is sufficient to photocopy the front page with your picture and passport number, plus the page with your most recent entry into Tunisia, which will be in Arabic (or your most recent exit and entry, if you have travelled in and out of the country since your arrival).
- Rental contract. To demonstrate that you are resident in Tunisia you must have a rental contract signed by you and your landlord. The contract will be in Arabic or French, and it has to have been officially registered in order to be legal. If you move into shared housing with someone, you may need to have the rental contract revised so that your name is added to it. Residence in a hotel is not adequate documentation for a Carte de Sejour.
- Attestation of employment from CEMAT. We can provide you with an official letter on CEMAT letterhead, signed by the CEMAT Director and with a seal, attesting to your employment.
- Copy of the CEMAT/Ministry of Education Cooperation Agreement. Residents of Tunisia, whether Tunisians or foreigners, must pay an exit tax when they travel. The tax is currently sixty Tunisian Dinars—over $40, a considerable sum. Researchers associated with CEMAT do not have to pay this tax. After you get your Carte de Sejour, you receive a special stamp in your passport that shows that you are exonerated from the exit tax. CEMAT can provide you with a copy of our agreement with the Ministry of Higher Education with the text that exonerates associates of CEMAT. The relevant section of the agreement is Article Eleven.
- Passport. Bring your passport with you to the police station. They may want to compare the photocopied pages with the original. The police station will eventually need your passport in order to put a visa and an exit tax exemption stamp into it. However, you do not need to leave your passport at the police station until your Carte de Sejour has been issued. You can wait until the permanent Carte de Sejour is ready, and then give them your passport to have the visa and tax exemption stamps added, which they can do in a day or two. It is better not to leave your passport at the police station during the whole application process because it may take a long time and during that time you may want to leave Tunisia for a trip somewhere, for which you need your passport.
- Three identification photographs. You need three small color portrait photos– 4.5 by 3.5 cm (1-3/4 by 1-5/8 inches). There are many photo shops that do identification photos. In Tunis a shop that specializes in identification photos is on the Avenue Habib Bourguiba, just opposite the French Embassy. They will photograph you and develop the photos while you wait for four Dinars (or less if you come back later to pick them up). Consider getting some extra photos, for use in applying for library or archives or youth hostel cards, or other cards which require an id photo.
- Ten Dinar fiscal stamp. The Carte de Sejour application requires a special fiscal stamp that costs ten Dinars. It comes not from the post office but from the Recette des Finances, which has an office near CEMAT by the entrance to our Impasse. It is your responsibility to buy the stamp and bring it to the police station. Do not glue the stamp to anything; bring it loose, and the official at the police station will glue it to the appropriate document.
After you have provided the documents required and the official at the police station has filled out the request forms, it may take several weeks (or even several months) for your permanent Carte de Sejour to be issued. For the interim, you will be given a Temporary Carte de Sejour, which is a card about four by six inches; one of the three photographs you provide goes onto it. This is your identification until your permanent Carte de Sejour is issued. The Temporary Carte de Sejour requires the signature of another official from the police station, so you usually have to come back the next day to get it. A Temporary Carte de Sejour is valid for a month. If more than a month goes by and you have not yet received your permanent Carte de Sejour, and if you are asked to show identification somewhere, just tell them that your permanent Carte de Sejour isn’t ready yet. If they want to verify this give them the name of the police station and the official to whom you made the application.
usually the official at the police station will call you for you to come and pick it up. However, if after a month if they haven’t called, check back with them at intervals until you get the card. The Carte de Sejour is a laminated card about four by three inches with your name, photograph, nationality, date of birth, a number, an expiration date, and on the back your profession and residence address.
The Carte de Sejour is valid for a year after the date that you applied for it–not the date that it was issued. This means that if it took six months for you to get the Carte de Sejour, you will need to apply again six months after you have received the card, not a year later. Renew the Carte de Sejour before the expiration date. Go to the police station at least a week before the expiration date to start the renewal process. You will need all the same documents as before, plus the old Carte de Sejour.
Carry your Carte de Sejour (or your Temporary Carte de Sejour) with you at all times. It is a good idea to keep photocopies of your passport, Temporary Carte de Sejour, Carte de Sejour, Ministry of Labor Work Attestation, credit cards, and any other important documents at your residence and/or place of work, just in case the originals are lost or stolen.
Getting a Carte de Sejour is a long process. The Carte de Sejour was introduced by the French during the Protectorate period. It is still a practice in France and equally difficult to get one there. There is even a North African music group in France called “ Carte de Sejour.” Be patient and be prepared to return several times. You may be asked for additional documents and there may be delays. Consider it a cross-cultural experience. Remember that bureaucracies in the United States can be complicated too, especially if you are a foreigner.